The He[art] of Reconciliation

502155-iStock-176884046I didn’t expect for last week’s post to have a “part 2”, but apparently God wasn’t done teaching me through my empty tank situation. If you haven’t read about that, read the post right before this one. Then meet me back here.

You good? Okay.

On my way to work yesterday, I was just rolling along thinking about stuff that I can’t even recall right now. My mind zips from one thing to another but it likely had something to do with students or student ministry or my wife or Chipotle or ducks or who knows what.

So a week ago I was driving to work and knew that I knew that I was going to run out of gas. It was just a matter of how far I’d have to walk when it inevitably happened. And here I was yesterday on my way to work; same road, same route, same minivan, same time, same everything. And on this winding, woodsy road I see up ahead a car that seems to be stopped dead. I slowed down to see a man emerge from the driver’s side, notice I was there and began pushing his car forward.  Yep. You guessed it. He had run out of gas.

I’m not a “favorites” kind of guy except for when it comes to things like books, movies, tv shows, restaurants, smells, shoes, toothpastes, cheeseburgers, music, and my children. But I will say this: One of my favorite passages in the bible is 2 Corinthians 5:18-19…

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

I quickly surmised that this guy was out of gas, so I pulled up next to him (now in the wrong lane on this narrow 2 lane road) and asked the obvious question: “You outta gas?” “Yeah.” was the reply. I continued, “Let me pull onto that side street and I’ll help you.”

As quickly and safely as I could, I got my car out of the way and then ran back to the rear of his car, leaned all my weight into thousands of pounds of metal, and together we began to roll that dead weight forward.  All the while I’m thinking, “I’m gonna feel this tomorrow.”

We got his car onto a side road and I offered him a ride to the gas station. Yep, the same one my van somehow mysteriously made it to just a week before. He gladly accepted and off we went. He ran in and out quickly with a small gas can he had bought and quickly filled it up. Hopped back in to my van and within a couple minutes was pouring that sweet sweet gasoline into his vehicle. He thanked me profusely while reaching into his pocket to pull out what appeared to be 2 or 3 dollar bills. He said, “I don’t have much, but—”  I shushed him and with a smile assured him I didn’t want anything from him.  I said, “I’m happy to help. That could’ve been me just last week.”

And as I said goodbye to my new friend Arturo, I thought about what God has saved me for. And us for. And why it is we’re here and not there with Him. I stand on the conviction that God has saved us to serve. We’re forgiven for giving. We’re reconciled to carry out the ministry of reconciliation.

Once again, so thankful that God has given me another chance to see Him move. Thankful for that fact that God has reconciled this wretched man and calls me His. And so very thankful for the ongoing opportunities to love.

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I got here on prayer.

overhead woodsI sometimes forget things. Important things. Things that could have a pretty severe impact on my day. Things like putting gas in my car. Today was that day.

I vaguely recall looking at the gas gauge yesterday thinking, “Oh yeah, I should get some gas soon.” When I got into my ride this morning, there it was: a gauge that was not too happy with me and my “I’ll do that later” lackadaisical attitude.

I had to get my two high schoolers to school (like I do every morning) and then I could see to the urgent gasoline matter I was facing. And as I was turning into the school drop-off area, I got a sinking feeling. “Uh oh. This is going to be close.”

Thankfully I got them dropped off with no hint of distress or the quietly emergent situation developing. I was still a handful of miles from the gas station that was thankfully on my way to work, so I began my mental preparation of what I would do when the seemingly inevitable run-out happened. The road to work is woodsy, and windy, and normally wonderful. But today it felt more like a labyrinth with no cheese; each curve taunting me that there were a dozen more of its cousins I still had to survive.

Once I mentally settled on a lovely morning walk along a windy, dangerous, shoulderless road in order to purchase a gas can and then fill it with gas before walking back to my sad van, I simply leaned into a simple conversation with God.

I know its not uncommon to treat prayer like a spiritual flare gun, firing it off when all other options have been exhausted. But this talk was more along the lines of knowing that God knows exactly where I am and exactly what I’m facing and exactly what I need.

Maybe you didn’t face the dreaded “E” this morning with your gas tank. But I know for sure that you need to hear that last sentence: God knows exactly where you are, and exactly what you’re facing, and exactly what you need.

So my talk with God wasn’t “if you’ll just get me out of this mess, I’ll do anything” kind of talk. It was rather a trade that He invites us to make every single day. You submit your problems, trials, stresses, and empty tank, and He supplies His peace. Its a crazy offer we’d be crazy to pass up.

Before I knew, my rickety old van rolled into the gas station and I turned it off with a gratitude not only that I had made it and didn’t have to risk life and limb on a walk to the gas station, but that I had been given the opportunity to be reminded that no matter where we are, no matter what the gas gauge reads, we are held within His hand.

Retreat Debrief

I thought it only appropriate to double back and review our fall retreat for high schoolers that happened this past weekend. Warning: Full disclosure/honesty ahead.

First of all, I really do love fall retreat more than anything else we do throughout the year. I can’t say specifically why that is, but it is. I think it has a lot to do with the overall tone/purpose of the weekend. We build it as highly relational, restful, spiritual, and communal. Because of that, there are prime opportunities to simply sit on a bench swing by a fire while sipping hot chocolate and talking life with a high schooler. You can’t not be refreshed after fall retreat.

When we purposefully enter into a time (even as brief as a weekend) where we are focused on God’s voice and others’ stories in an intentional way, we come away from that with a much stronger sense of who we are based on who God is rather than who we try to be based on who others say we should be. If I can put it this way, students who get away like this come back with a deeper, clearer sense of self as well as the imperative of spiritual community. And by contrast, those who don’t…don’t. At least not in the same way.  I’ve heard it said that a church’s weekly prayer gathering is a good barometer of a church’s spiritual health. And for better or for worse, I think there’s a similar metric with our fall retreat. I gauge much of what I consider spiritual hunger/growth on who and how many I see coming away for a time like this. And just being transparent here…this year’s group was our smallest one in recent history at 28.

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We spent the weekend gathering around a few different truths. We had 4 “sessions” together and there were 4 statements that encapsulate each of those sessions:

Session 1: “Come Away”: Mark 6:31…. “The investment of conversation you place in a relationship is a very accurate measure of the importance you place on that relationship as well as the consequential health of that relationship.”

Session 2: “For the Mems”: 1 Cor. 9:19-23… “If you want your life to mean something, do something that actually has meaning.”

Session 3: “Unrivaled Love Deserves an Undivided Heart”: John 17:20-21 & Psalm 86:11… “When we are willing to take up our cross, we agree with Jesus that our mission is to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to share as he shared, and to be willing to die before we would turn our back on our Savior. This is revolutionary. This is the most revolutionary life you can live.”

Session 4: “You Share What You Love”: Psalm 96:2-4 & 1 Peter 3:15-16… “It is such a powerful thing to realize that your story interacts and intersects with my story and his story and her story; that God can use your life as an eternal impact on the lives of those around you if you’ll let Him.”

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Every indication is that fall retreat absolutely nailed its purpose. Students came away refreshed, connected, challenged, and encouraged. I’m doing all I can to help students see and take next steps, but much/most of that is the Holy Spirit’s work in each individual. All in all, fantastic weekend retreat. To those who prayed, I can’t simply thank you enough!

Anytime I post to this blog, I always wonder what readers think. And maybe you didn’t go on this retreat–maybe you’ve never been away like that. But what are the most restful, recharging activities you engage in; what is it that is spiritually rejuvenating to you? What more than anything else draws you close to Christ and re-calibrates your heart to His?

“Pretreat”

hammock heavenNext weekend I’ll be heading to our annual fall retreat with some of our high school students. It promises to be an amazing weekend. Despite the fact that our numbers are less-than-stellar at the moment, and that I don’t think they’ve ever been at this point within 2 weeks of launch, I’m still thrilled to get away. Or as the invitation has gone out: “Come away.”

But in the pace of the average high school student who seldom thinks past the next half hour, even an annual retreat can sneak up–on all of us. But not this time. I can see it coming and I’m looking it dead in eye. And honestly, I couldn’t be more filled with anticipation. Our group needs this time. Friendships need this time. Our leaders need this time. I need this time.

So I want to make the most of a weekend; what amounts to less than 48 hours. In order to do that, here are the thoughts I’m focusing on…

  1. Expectation. What we expect is usually what we experience. I can’t lead students into a sense of wonder and expectation unless I’m already swimming in it. Am I even paying attention to God right now? What He’s doing? What He’s saying? Where He’s leading? Who He is calling me to see and to serve? God, don’t let my expectation be anything but representative of the fact that my heart knows You, needs You, and will be refreshed beyond measure as I meet you for a specially divined appointment.
  2. De-cluttering. Assessing in ministry and assessing in life can be tackled by wrestling with one question: What am I doing that isn’t making a difference? Routine can help us in building stability, but it can also create blinders that stop us from seeing where we’re spinning our wheels. This isn’t just about schedule or calendar, this goes for our minds and hearts too. What has taken up residence in my mind that has become a drain on my energy without contributing, like a tenant that isn’t paying rent? God, show me what I’ve allowed to take root in my mind and heart that isn’t growing me closer to you.
  3. Gratefulness. I’ve found that little else does what genuine gratefulness does. Gratefulness is our message to God to that see what He’s done (no matter if you directly benefit or not) and it also puts you in a place of receptiveness and awareness for seeing more of what God is doing. And the beat goes on. God, bring my heart back to a place of sheer thankfulness for all You are and all You’ve done. 

2017-hs-fall-retreat-group.jpgIf retreat really is a respite from routine, an oasis in an overstimulated desert, and an appointment with the Almighty, then I don’t want to do anything but drink in every ounce. Even as I seek to minister to students and leaders, I get recharged and refreshed in the process.

So as we gear up for a weekend of laughter, friendships, activities, outdoors, worship, listening, teaching, sharing, eating, and resting, we’re ready for all that’s in store.